The Feast of All Souls: Part 2

The Holy Souls in Purgatory need our prayers.

The Feast of All Souls: Part 2

(by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876)

“Have pity on me, at least you my friends.”–Job xix, 21.

That it is a duty, a truly Christian duty, to help the poor afflicted souls in Purgatory, no one can doubt. We are commanded even as men, but especially as Christians, to love and assist our neighbor as ourselves. But the souls in Purgatory do not cease to be deserving of our love and service because they are in an abode of punishment, for they are still our brethren, and they are the more deserving of prayers as they can not help themselves. When it will be our turn one day to dwell in those flames, and be separated from God, how happy will we not be if others alleviate and shorten your pains! Do you desire this assistance for your own soul? Then begin in this life, while you have time, to render aid to the poor souls in Purgatory.

As the teachers of Divinity justly observe, all that we can render to the souls in Purgatory is our intercession before God in their behalf. Our heavenly Father accepts our appeal in proportion to their condition in that place of confinement. But he who does not assist others, unto him shall no mercy be shown; for this is what even-handed justice requires. Hence, let us not be deaf to the pitiful cries of the departed ones.

We, moreover, fulfill a duty assigned us the more cheerfully when there are many and weighty motives for complying with it; but especially is this the case if we perceive that thereby some advantage accrues to ourselves equal to or greater than that which falls to the share of him whom we assist. Now, that is precisely the case when we help the souls in Purgatory through our prayers and good works, whether we consider ourselves and our own salvation, or the good we render those beloved, but afflicted ones of God.

The main reflection which should be drawn from all that has been said, and which should be deeply engraved upon the mind, is that all the pains the poor souls in Purgatory suffer tend to sanctify our own souls, and to shorten hereafter our own misery in the same place of torment.

How this can be accomplished I shall endeavor to explain in the present sermon.

O Mary, Mother of mercy, secure for us the grace of making what we now hear enter deeply into our hearts, in order that, from this day forward, we may hasten to the aid of the souls in Purgatory! I speak to you in the holy name of Jesus, for the greater glory of God! I said, that which pains the poor souls in Purgatory tends to sanctify our soul here upon earth, and hereafter to shorten the term of our punishment in the purifying flames of Purgatory.

The first thing that torments the poor souls in Purgatory is the longing, the burning desire to behold God, to be with Christ and Mary, and to be among the number of the Blessed; in a word, to possess the joys of Heaven. This is their constant desire. The hope of one day entering into the mansion of heavenly delights is what makes their stay doubly painful. Oh, with what torments are not these souls afflicted through their yearning to be with their God! Were there no other suffering beyond this desire, it alone would be exceedingly agonizing.

Now, this very thought elevates our heart and tends to sanctify our lives. Whence arises the fact that we live so tepidly, so regardless of our Christian duties? Why are we more anxious to possess the perishable things of the world than to own the everlasting treasures of heaven? I answer: We think too little of God, of the glorious attributes of His infinite divine perfection; in brief, we are too careless about our union with God. Were we steadily to walk in the presence of God, to sigh for Him, oh, how clearly would not such a disposition place before our eyes the misery and heinousness of the smallest sin and imperfection, and thus impel us to shun it forever! Should we, however, have the misfortune to commit an imperfection or a venial sin, we would without delay be filled with the spirit of penance of a St. Aloysius, banish it from our heart, and thus shorten our Purgatory hereafter.

Again, we betray too little regard for Jesus. Were this not the case, oh, how would we not avail ourselves of His presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Altar to advance our sanctification by repeated visits to that sacred shrine, where He reposes; by devout attendance at Mass; by frequent union with Him in Holy Communion; in fine, by closely following the example of His earthly career.

The same remark may be made of our love for Mary, the Mother of Christ Jesus. How great was not the ardent affection of a blessed Leonard of Port Maurice or a St. Stanislaus, for Mary! It was on account of this filial love for her that they entered without delay into heavenly bliss, for they, living on earth, copied the image of Mary the Mirror of justice. Yes, should we have had the happiness of worthily wearing the Scapular of Mt. Carmel, through a desire of imitating Mary’s virtues, then, as we are informed in the holy Office of the Church, Mary will assist us after our departure from this life, and soon deliver us from Purgatory, to receive us, her dear children, into heaven.

The same observation holds true concerning the yearning of the poor souls in Purgatory to be in the companionship of all the Angels and Saints. We, again, regard too little the image presented to us in the life and actions of the Saints. Were we oftener to recall it to our minds, we would share in the encouraging reflection of St. Augustine while contemplating their lives, and say with him: “If these have done such things, why can not I do the same?” What is the reason that we, instead of imitating their zeal for virtue, are content with abstaining from grievous sin only? Ah, we do not reflect that, as children of the Church, we possess the same means as the Saints used, and by which they became holy. We do not consider that it is now time for us, while we yet sojourn upon earth, to gain at every moment new merits, to reap a harvest of heavenly glory, that in the hereafter we may elevate ourselves to the splendor of heaven in the Communion of the Saints!

What torments the souls in Purgatory is the knowledge that they are no longer able to merit any thing for heaven. They can not help themselves; they are entirely dependent upon others. They wait, and wait, and have nothing to do but to yearn and suffer. Oh, how they grieve and lament that while on earth they thought so little of heaven; that they accomplished so little to gain it, and did so much for this world; that, in fine, they have rashly squandered their precious time! Could they in Purgatory practice good works, spread the kingdom of God, save souls, how readily would they perform these duties; but, alas! it is now too late.

We, however, have this rich treasure, this great blessing–time. We can, if we desire it, make use of it even if it costs the severest effort and toil. We have still command over the priceless gift. Let us employ it well. What afflicts those poor, helpless souls still more is the circumstance that, despite their patience in suffering, they can earn nothing for heaven. With us, however, such is not the case. We. fortunately, by our patience under affliction, may merit much, very much indeed, for Paradise. The cross of misery and suffering borne with resignation, carried bravely for love of God, and in compliance with His divine will–that cross which weighs so heavily in heaven’s just scale of retribution–will be for us a pledge of untold bliss in heaven. Christ Himself expressly assures us of this, and St. Paul declares it when he says: “The sufferings of this world can not be compared with the weight of glory, which they prepare for us in Paradise.”

I well remember a certain sick person who was sorely pressed with great sufferings. Wishing to console him in his distress, I said: “Friend, such severe pains will not last long. You will either recover from your illness and become well and strong again or God will soon call you to Himself.” Thereupon the sick man, turning his eyes upon a crucifix which had been placed for him at the foot of his bed, replied: “Father, I desire no alleviation in my suffering, no relief from my pains. I cheerfully endure all as long as it is God’s good pleasure; but I hope that I now undergo my Purgatory.” Then, stretching forth his hands towards his crucifix, he thus addressed it, filled with the most lively hope in God’s mercy: ” Is it not so, dear Jesus? Thou wilt only take me from my bed. of pain to receive me straightway into heaven!”

These were the words of one who confided in the goodness of an all-merciful Father. Are we resigned like that poor afflicted sufferer on his couch of pain? Have we the same Christian fortitude and hope? If not, let us strive to imitate his example. Impatience–I say impatience is the fountain of innumerable defects and venial sins against God and our neighbor. It is this that so frequently prevents us from resigning ourselves to God’s most holy will. On the other hand, how efficacious is the recollection of the suffering of the souls in Purgatory! Soon, and perhaps very soon, I, too, will be of their number, and will have to endure intense agony without reward. When I consider the patience of those souls, how encouraged ought I to be to endure all patiently and to resign myself entirely to God’s will.

Besides these circumstances, there is in the condition of the poor souls still another, and one which, above all others, characterizes their state. It is the circumstance that all who suffer in Purgatory are holy souls–souls most dear to God. While there, they are no longer in danger of being tempted to sin by intercourse with worldly-minded and imperfect persons. If we were very careful to shun the company of sinners and the children of the world, oh, how many sins and faults would we not avoid–sins and imperfections that make us guilty before God, and from which we shall have to be cleansed by the flames of Purgatory.

Therefore let us strive to associate ourselves in spirit with those distressed souls; often think of them; pray and work for their release. If we were to do this, how much would it not conduce to mend our lives, to sanctify us, and thus assist us to escape Purgatory, or at least to shorten our stay there; for all the circumstances that mark the state of the souls in Purgatory are so well adapted to encourage us in the path to perfection!These circumstances are, as I have said, first, their great yearning to be with God, with Jesus and Mary, and in the society of the Angels and Saints; secondly, their inability to labor meritoriously or to gain merit by suffering things, however, which we can do by entire conformity with the most divine will of God.

Therefore how true and important is not the counsel of the Holy Ghost, “It is a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead”–when we reflect that through our assistance they may the sooner enter into the joys of heaven; that here upon earth we, by devotion to them, may lead the life of Saints, that thereby we may be delivered, if not entirely, at least in a short time, from Purgatory, to enjoy the unspeakable bliss of the celestial Paradise forever in company with all the Saints and Angels. Amen!


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